Happy New Year. It’s 2013. The world did not end on December 21, 2012, just the Mayan calendar did.
That means we can all relax again and go to the movies. Movies as a form of entertainment have been around for more than 100 years. Up until recently, the technology has been about the same for those 100+ years. Sure, there have been many changes over the years – sound, Technicolor, Dolby stereo, 3D, Cinemascope – but the actual movies themselves were pretty much the same as they were in Thomas Edison’s day. Film was exposed in a camera, prints made and then projected onto a screen. Thirty-five mm film projected at 24 frames-per-second (fps) became the standard. A movie made in 1919 could run on virtually the same equipment as a movie made in 2009 (35mm projectors were built like battleships and lasted for decades). However, that all changed with the introduction of Digital Cinema. Just as CDs replaced vinyl and cassettes, hard drives and servers replaced reels of film. Almost overnight the celluloid film industry became obsolete as theatres switched to digital. The same thing happened with equipment manufacturers who made projectors, film reels, splicing tape and other items that supported film hardware.
Now, it’s a new world with 1s and 0s replacing layers of emulsion. From start to finish, a movie exists not as a physical entity, but as a digital file that is captured, edited and shown electronically. Just as there are purists in music who prefer LPs to CDs, there are filmmakers and filmviewers who like film, thank you very much. But, film will soon be gone. And along with that, the nuance that gave film its distinct look. Digital technology eliminates “grain” since there are no tiny grains of silver halide that are exposed to light that create an image. Digital images have none of the shake or weave inherent in running a reel of film through a projector. Using micro-mirrors and prisms to digitally process light in a Digital Cinema projector is completely different than shining light through film and, at least for some viewers, provides a different “feel” to the images onscreen. It also means that dust, dirt, scratches, splices and even mixed up reels, are a thing of the past.
OK, this is not a debate about Digital Cinema vs. analog film. It is about the experience of seeing a movie in a theatre. For virtually all moviegoers, seeing a movie in Digital Cinema is a better experience than the film equivalent. It’s also better than seeing a movie on a smart phone, iPad, laptop screen or even your 70” home theatre. Because while the technology of the movies has changed, the social experience is still what makes a movie theatre unique. Sitting in an auditorium with other people is a shared experience that creates community. While the product in a theatre or at home may be the same, a movie, the way that people interact with it is much, much different. Going out on a first date in your parent’s living room, for instance, is just kind of weird. Microwave popcorn is absolutely not the same as movie theatre popcorn. Laughing alone is not nearly as much fun as laughing with 200 other people. Laying on the couch in your underwear watching a DVD is definitely not a social experience. While you might tell your co-workers about the great movie you saw with your family last weekend, it’s not so likely you’ll say the same thing about the DVD you watched in your undershorts by yourself.
Movie theatres have greatly improved since the days of non-descript boxes at your local mall. Today, chances are the theatre you attend will have stadium seating, big screens, sensational sound, bright, clear pictures and even a lounge or restaurant. Theatre owners have worked very hard to make the experience a good one. They’ve invested in bigger, more comfortable seats and added services and amenities. It’s more than just the movie, it’s a night out or an escape from everyday life where you can be with other people and be part of a community larger than your living room. And, that’s a good thing, especially now that you have all the time in the world.
Question: Do you prefer Digital Cinema to analog film?
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